The Atlantic and Vox Media made their own deal with the AI Devil


In the last few months, news organizations have leapt into bed with OpenAI, hatching Faustian bargains where the cash-strapped media industry exchanges a monetary pittance for OpenAI’s right to scrape and integrate their content into things like ChatGPT. Those that have signed in blood include News Corp (publisher of the Wall Street Journal), the Financial Times, People magazine publisher Dotdash Meredith, the AP, and now, The Atlantic and Vox Media.

The Atlantic and Vox Media quickly confirmed these new deals shortly after Axios first published the news.

The Atlantic says that it’ll be a “premium news source” in OpenAI and that all its citations will be clearly attributed to The Atlantic with links back to the original content. There are concerns from publishers that users of AI chatbots don’t actually need to go to the original sources; perhaps the calculus is that, for an industry in the twilight of its lifespan, some inbound link traffic is better than none. Then again, by agreeing to be scraped at all, perhaps The Atlantic is effectively wading directly into the tarpit of its own extinction (and of media as a whole). There will also be an experimental “microsite” called Atlantic Labs that’ll showcase “new products and features to better serve its journalism and readers.”

Vox Media (publisher of its flagship news site Vox, tech site The Verge, the network of sports blogs under the SB Nation banner and many more) says it’ll have a similar style of attribution and linking out to its content.

Vox Media will also use OpenAI data both internally and in public-facing content. Specifically, it’ll “enhance” Vox’s The Strategist Gift Scout tool that helps visitors find stuff to buy (and helps Vox Media earn affiliate revenue). It’ll also be built into the publisher’s in-house advertising platform, so expect ads that are even better at following you around the internet and learning about what you want to buy.

There’s no indication yet that that either company will publish anything created directly by AI, as sites like CNET and Sports Illustrated have tried with disastrous results, though neither company said anything about keeping AI out of its content either. Over at The Atlantic, it seems likely that any such experiments will be kept to the new Atlantic Labs section, at least for starters.

While a number of publishers have been quick to embrace AI, not everyone is so enthused. The New York Times sued both OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement in December, saying that both companies use its material without permission to train their models. More recently, eight publications owned by the Alden Capital Group, including the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News, sued both companies with a similar complaint. At this point, it seems like it’s either spend time and money in a lawsuit to go after OpenAI’s rampant intellectual theft or cut a deal that’ll make you some spending cash in a dire media market.

It was only last week The Atlantic published its own screed decrying media organizations which had taken petty cash from AI interlopers in exchange for something of significantly greater value. The odds unfortunately suggest this story (and my moral high ground) will age just as poorly in the near future.

Update, May 29, 2024, 12:20 PM ET: This story has been updated to include details from Vox Media’s official statement on the deal.



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